When former Kansas State linebacker Mike Moore took the field for the Chargers’ rookie mini camp, he described it as a “blessing.” While most rookies are appreciative to make it this far, for Moore, it had a much different meaning.
Almost three years ago, he was unsure if he’d ever play football again.
“After my first game in 2014, I went to the hospital because my back was hurting,” Moore said. “I found out that my creatinine levels were at a four. (Normal levels are 0.7-1.2 for men). After they got my kidneys functioning again, I left the hospital. But after I got out, my equilibrium was still off so they ordered an MRI. Then I found out I had a brain tumor on my pituitary gland.”
Moore was in shock. He had no prior symptoms besides general fatigue that summer, which he thought was due to a lack of conditioning. He came down with rhabdomyolysis, which caused his muscles to break down. Additionally, his testosterone levels were as low as those of a 77-year old man.
While the diagnosis was harsh, the long-term prognosis was even worse. Moore was told he would likely never play football again.
“(Taking) a shot to the head, I could have died or gone blind. My world seemed like it ended. Football was how I planned on providing for my family because I had just found out that my son was on the way. I was in my senior year going to graduate in the winter and I wanted to play ball. When they told me there was a possibility I wouldn’t be able to play, it was so defeating.”
The main reason Moore’s football prognosis was so grim was because of the surgical procedure needed to remove the benign tumor.
“My doctors said I wouldn’t be able to play football since they needed to remove the tumor by cracking my skull. If you have a (previously) cracked skull, you can’t play football.”
There was a glimmer of hope. Instead of cracking his skull, Moore had a procedure called endoscopic transsphenoidal surgery. Surgeons removed the tumor through the sphenoid sinus.
“They cut under my lip, broke my nose, moved it to the side and went through the nasal canal to get to my pituitary gland. They were able to get the tumor out piece by piece, and now the gland is functioning properly. (Having that kind of surgery) was a conscious decision to help me play football again. But at that point, it was more about the recovery and (playing) wasn’t guaranteed.”
Moore’s road to recovery was tough. He wasn’t able to breathe through his nose or even hold his son. In fact, anything weighing more than six pounds was off limits for six weeks. But as soon as he was cleared to work out, he never let up.
Once he was cleared to play football again, he never looked back.
“Coming into 2015’s camp, we had a conditioning test and my coach told me he wanted me to run, but understood if I didn’t pass. I ran two seconds faster than what I needed to run (to pass). That was it. I went home, studied and knew I had to play and got it done.”
Almost one full year after his diagnosis, Moore took to the field. But just weeks after the season started, tragedy struck again.
Moore’s father died after he had a heart attack while driving to work.
“It was awful. My dad was one of my best friends. He was my guiding force. I didn’t understand why all of this was happening to me. But I had to make a decision if I wanted to continue playing football. I talked with my mom and she told me, ‘Your dad taught you not to quit.’”
Moore’s other option was to finish out the season and work for the family landscaping business.
“I told her I would finish out the season, but then everything just started turning and turning. I started channeling anger because I was angry. I still battle with that every day, but (at the time) I would put that anger into the game and it blossomed from there.”
Moore had 16 straight starts to finish out his career with the Wildcats. Fully healthy, in 2016 he ranked second on the team with 75 tackles, including four tackles for loss and three fumble recoveries.
After fighting for his life, Moore is now fighting for a roster spot.
Coming in as an undrafted rookie free agent, he knows he has to work even harder to prove his worth. Yet, he’s beyond appreciative to be given the opportunity to live out his dream.
“I want to say thank you to the organization, owners and coaches for giving me this opportunity. It’s always been my dream to play football. I’m living it being able to put on this uniform. It means the world to me. It’s the second-best thing to happen to me next to my kids being born.”